If you buy the right barbell and practice proper barbell maintenance, it can be an investment in your health for the rest of your life.
At the end of the day, barbells are pretty durable pieces of equipment, so they do not require that much care. However, by following a few crucial tips from our barbell maintenance guide, you can dramatically increase the lifespan and overall performance of your barbell.
In this guide, we will break down all the crucial steps and tips involved in properly caring for a barbell. From regular everyday care to full-on restorations, this guide will have you covered.
Pick The Righ Barbell From Beginning
If you want a barbell that you can use for decades and then pass on to your children, the most important step is purchasing the right barbell from the beginning. The reality is that you can practice all of the following maintenance tips and instructions to the letter, but there is only so much you can do if the original barbell was poorly made.
I understand the temptation to start off cheap so you can get a feel for the home gym life, but trust me when I tell you that you are better off buying a quality barbell once than having to upgrade later on because your original barbell did not meet your needs.
In today’s barbell market, you can also get some excellent bars for less than $300 with a lifetime warranty. Here are some back signs to look for when purchasing a barbell:
Signs Of A Quality Barbell
- Lifetime warranty
- 190K + Tensile Strength
- Quality knurling
- Oxidation Resistant Coating
- Can be found in the $250-$400 range
Signs Of A Poorly Made Barbell
- Knurling provides little to no grip
- The finish wears away easily
- Bar corrodes quickly
- Sleeves have lots of friction
- The bar will bend of overtime
If you make the mistake of purchasing a low-quality barbell, you will eventually upgrade to a higher-quality option. So it’s better to buy correctly the first time than to have to buy another bar later. The same applies to all types of barbells you may purchase, including specialty bars.
Can A Barbell Really Last Forever?
As we already touched on, barbells are already very durable pieces of gym equipment. Even if you neglect a barbell for years, it will still be able to support weight and so on. The real question is if you can keep a barbell looking and performing well forever.
The answer to this question is yes. If you buy a quality bar and maintain it properly, the bar should be able to look and perform just like it did the day you got it well past your lifetime.
Why Do Barbells Need To Be Maintained?
Barbells need to be maintained because their frequent exposure to human contact and the elements make them vulnerable to corrosion if not cared for properly.
If you think about it, your barbell is one of the things you touch the most when you are in the gym. When you touch the barbell, you are transferring your blood, sweat, chalk, skin, and body oil onto the bar. All of these materials get gunked up in the knurling of the bar. If left for any amount of time, the bar becomes the perfect environment for rust and corrosion to take hold.
On top of that, you have to consider that the majority of people are storing their barbells in their garage or another non-climate-controlled setting. The added humidity and salt depending on where you live only makes things worse over time.
What many people also do not realize is that barbells have moving parts as well. The sleeves spin on bushings or bearings that depend on very little friction to spin smoothly and steadily. With enough corrosion, the lubricant in these parts will begin to leak out, and your barbell will not spin properly.
The lack of spin will not only make your lifts feel uncomfortable but it can also cause a number of safety issues. Since the sleeve is not allowing the weight plates to spin freely, the plates can build up inertia and can cause the shaft to spin in your hands. You could potentially tear your hands with the knurling, lose control of the bar, or injure your wrists if this were to happen to you.
How Does Barbell Finish Impact Rust?
Barbell finish is likely the biggest factor that will impact the price, durability, and overall maintenance demands of your bar. Generally, you can expect the more premium finishes like cerakote and stainless steel to provide the most rust resistance, while the cheaper finishes like bare steel or black oxide will be more vulnerable to rust.
Bare steel is just what it sounds like, the bar has no additional coating and is just exposed steel. The benefit of this type of finish, or lack thereof, is that it allows direct contact with the knurling. Since there is no additional coating, you get the full raw feel of the knurling.
Also, the lack of coating means that these are usually one of the cheaper barbells you can find. The downside is that with no coating comes no protection, and this bar will corrode quickly. Even if you are on top of your maintenance, you can still expect a layer of rust or patina to form.
Black oxide is a type of conversion coating. What this means is that the bar is chemically treated to give bar a black oxide coating. Since there is minimal material added to the bar, this type of barbell also has a stellar raw feel. The downside though is that it does not provide much protection against oxidation. It will be more resistant than bare steel but not by much.
Zinc is perhaps the coating that you can “feel” the most in a bad way. The added coating dulls the knurling and gives the bar more of a powdery, slippery feel. As far as oxidation resistance goes, this bar falls right in the middle of the pack.
The only other notable aspect of zinc is that it comes in different colors: black zinc, bright zinc, and standard zinc.
Chrome is a very deceiving coating. It will initially look great out of the box but will quickly chip away under any sort of use. It is commonly on cheap, budget barbells or barbell sleeves. Similar to zinc, the added coating also takes away some depth from the knurling.
Hard chrome is the upgrade on regular chrome and it is certainly noticeable. Since it is an applied coating, it will dull the knurling of the bar to some extent. Though I will say the dullness is not as pronounced on zinc or regular chrome bars.
Hard chrome also provides a very good level of oxidation resistance. Overall, I would say that hard chrome is where we start getting into the higher-quality barbells that are more durable.
Cerakote was originally a finish used for firearms that were brought over to the barbell world by American Barbell. Like chrome, cerakote is an applied coating so it will dull the feeling of the knurling.
However, cerakote is an excellent coating due to its corrosion resistance properties and endless customization options. Cerakote has consistently shown to be among the best coating for overall oxidation resistance, On top of that, cerakote is really the only coating that allows you to get your barbell with all sorts of cool designs and colors.
If you really want the best of the best, that is stainless steel hands down. This type of barbell does not have a coating so you get that raw knurling feel but it is also incredibly oxidation resistant.
Stainless steel bars are the most corrosion-resistant barbell material. They can rust, but it would take years of neglect of being stored in very harsh conditions for them to do so.
That being said, just because a barbell says stainless steel does not mean it is bulletproof. If you are going to make the jump and buy a stainless steel barbell, make sure you buy from one of the accredited barbell manufacturers.
Before we dive into maintaining your barbell, you first need to familiarize yourself with all the different barbell parts so you know how to care for each one:
Shaft And Knurling
The shaft is the central part of the barbell that you will be gripping for the majority of your lifts. The knurling is the pattern etched into the shaft and is designed to create friction and enhance your grip.
The type of knurling will depend on the bar. Quality bars tend to have a more pronounced knurling with powerlifting bars having the most aggressive knurling.
Aside from helping your grip, the other thing that knurling does very well holds onto debris like sweat, dirt, dust, and chalk. The knurling is really the portion of the bar where you will need to pay the most day-to-day attention. Ideally, the knurling will be debris free after every session.
The sleeves are the end portion of the barbell that actually holds the weight. The finish on the sleeves is typically different than the finish on the shaft of the barbell.
In terms of corrosion, the sleeves tend to be at less risk than the shaft since you are touching the sleeves less often and there is nowhere for debris to dig into. One thing to be aware of though is that the sleeves can chip and show damage easily depending on the coat from loading and unloading the weight plates.
Bushings and Bearings
The sleeves of the barbell spin independently from the shaft via bearings or bushings. The way these parts spin is very important for a good and safe lifting experience.
Bushings are the most common type of rotation system. They are small rings of softer metal that allow the sleeves to spin with a decent of friction. This means that the sleeves will spin but not necessarily very quickly. Since bushings can be used for most lifts, you will find them on most powerlifting and multipurpose barbells.
Bearings produce a much quicker and smoother barbell spin. For this reason, they are usually the ideal choice for Olympic weightlifting bars that are used for more explosive lifts. The problem with bearings is that they tend to be more expensive and require more maintenance. A bushing is really just a metal ring while a bearing is more complicated with multiple moving parts.
Regardless of which rotation system is on your bar, most quality barbells will come with bushings or bearings lubricated with oil.
Everyday Barbell Care
In terms of things that you can do on a daily basis that lengthen the lifespan o your barbell, here are the basics:
Ideally, you want to brush after every lifting session. The best tool for this is any nylon bristle brush or deck brush. You can find these in any hardware store. Or, you could buy a special barbell brush from one of the big barbell manufacturers but this tends to be more expensive.
All you want to do is brush your bar after you are done just to get all the dirt, skin, sweat, and chalk out of the bar.
You want to make sure that you have a dedicated area where you can store your barbells. Plenty of vertical and horizontal barbell storage racks exist, but this is really something you can do on your own if you are even somewhat handy.
Just remember that when it comes to barbell storage, higher is better. You want to limit proximity to the floor since that is where debris and humidity are the worst,
Regular Barbell Maintenance
Now we are really to get into real barbell maintenance aside from everyday steps. Essentially what you are going to do is clean and oil your barbell, To do this, you will need a few tools.
- Brush: This can be the same nylon bristle or specialty barbell brush that you wipe your bar off with on a daily basis
- Oil: The most popular option for oiling barbells is 3-IN-OIL since it is cheap and easily available. A common mistake is using WD-40, do not do that.
- Paper Towel Or Microfiber Cloth: This will be used to spread the oil across the barbell
How To Oil A Barbell
Barbell Care Video Guide
Step By Step Maintenance
- Find An Open Area
Find a nice and open area where you can apply oil to your barbell. Do not do this in your squat rack as any oil that drops off will be hard to clean. Doing this over a trash bag or old towels is best.
- Brush Your Bar
Using your brush, brush off any debris on your bar. You want to take more time here than you do with your daily brushing Make sure to be thorough and get all the material off of your barbell.
- Apply Oil To Your Barbell
Apply a coating of your oil to the shaft of the barbell and spread it around using a paper towel or microfiber cloth. Do not be afraid to liberally apply the oil.
- Let The Barbell Sit
Let the barbell sit for 5-10 minutes so that the oil can soak in and go to work on the barbell.
- Brush Again
Now you want to go back in with your brush and brush off any rust that has developed.
- Do Your Sleeves
Sleeves tend to not develop rust as much as the shaft so you can do this step only if you notice some corrosion forming on your sleeves. If you do your sleeves, just do the same thing we did to the shaft.
- Wipe Your Barbell Down
Wipe your barbell down using your cloth, the goal here should be to leave your barbell as clean as possible.
- Apply A Second Layer Of Oil
Take the oil again and apply a second layer. Apply the oil liberally and make sure to cover the entire bar.
- Wipe Down The Barbell Again
Now take your cloth and wipe all the oil you can off the barbell. The bar should be feeling oily or slippery. You should have only left a slight layer of oil meant to protect the barbell against rust.
- Do Your Bushings And Bearings
Like the sleeves, you only have to do this if you notice signs of wear. If you notice your sleeves are not spinning like they used to, you should do your bushings and bearings as well. All you have to do is apply a few drops of oil to the collars and leave the bar standing for a few hours. Next, come back and do the other side.
How Often Should I Do Barbell Maintenance?
How often you should oil your barbell will depend on the coating of your barbell and where you live. People with coatings that provide little to no oxidation resistance, like bare steel or black oxide, should be doing their barbell maintenance more regularly. The same applies to people who live in coastal or humid areas. Since these are the kinds of things that make rust grow, you should also take better care of your barbell. That being said, here are some general guidelines for how often you should be treating your barbell:
- Once Per Month: Black Oxide, Bare Steel
- Once Every Two Months: Chrome, Zinc
- Once Every Six Months: Stainless Steel, Hard Chrome, Cerakote
How Do I Remove Rust From A Barbell?
If you inherited or found a cheap somewhat rusted barbell, there are still methods to get it back up to a working standard. The restoration process just is a bit more involved than regular barbell maintenance and sometimes may not be enough to bring the barbell back to life.
It all depends on how rusted the bar is and whether to not the rust has managed to completely destroy the rotation system and threaten the structural integrity of the bar.
How To Restore A Barbell
The restoration process for a barbell is fairly simple but will require the barbell to be set overnight or for at least a few hours. So be sure to do this when you have enough time.
- Your rusty barbell
- Nylon bristle or Brass Bristle Brush
- 3 In-1 Oil
- Large Bucket
- Plastic Wrap
- White Vinegar
- Baking Soda
- Paper Towels
Make sure to get one of the brushes listed above or a specialty barbell cleaning brush. If you use a brush that has a harder metal such as steel, you could potentially damage the knurling of your barbell.
These methods require soaking your barbell, to do that you can either use a large bucket or some paper towels and plastic wrap.
Step 1: Remove All Debris From Barbell
Here you want to use the same nylon bristle brush. You do not need to use lots of force here, just be sure to take your time and get all the skin, chalk, sweat, and dust out of the knurling.
Step 2: White Vinegar Soak
For the next step, you will need to let your barbell soak in white vinegar. Since vinegar will remove most finishes, it is best to only use this method on bare steel or stainless steel barbells. When it comes to how you do this step. you have two options depending on the equipment you have at your disposal.
Option 1: Deep Soak
This option requires a bit more work but will likely be the most thorough. To do this, you are going to disassemble your barbell according to your manufactures instructions and place all of the parts in a large bucket filled with vinegar.
Every part of the barbell should be submerged. If you do not want to take your barbell apart or do not have a large enough container, you can use the second option.
Option 2: Paper Towel Method
The paper towel method is very easy, it will just require a bit more intricacy.
- Fill a bucket with white vinegar
- Lightly soak a paper towel and wrap it around a section of your barbell
- As soon as place a paper towel on your bar, wrap that same section in plastic wrap. If you do not do this quickly, the vinegar will evaporate and cause more rust on your bar
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 until your entire bar is wrapped.
- Let the bar sit overnight
Step 3: Get The Rust And Vinegar Off
For this step, we are going to clean the barbell carefully to get all the rust and vinegar off.
Since we just let the barrel soak in acidic vinegar all night, we need to neutralize it. This is very easy, all you have to do is fill a spray bottle with some baking soda and water. Do not worry about the ratio, just be sure to put plenty of baking soda in.
You should also be aware that this step can get a bit messy. The vinegar, rust, and baking soda could easily drip off and stain whatever is below. So it is best to not do this in your rack and instead do it over a tarp or some old towel.
Now that you have everything ready, you are going to remove take the vinegar off the barbell and begin brushing immediately. If you used a bucket, take the parts of the barbell out and start brushing. If you used plastic wrap, take all the wrap and towels off and start brushing.
After you give your bar a good brush, rinse the bar with some regular water to get most of the vinegar off. Then make sure to spray your entire bar with plenty of the baking soda solution we made earlier.
If you did everything properly, your barbell should be looking much better at this stage.
Step 4: Oil Your Barbell
Before you apply oil to your barbell, make sure to dry it using a paper towel.
With a dry barbell, apply some 3-IN-ONE oil liberally and brush it in. Take your time to apply oil to every section of the bar. The oil will serve as a protective coating so rust does not form as quickly.
If you are doing a good job, the bar should begin looking nice and shiny. The more time you dedicate here, the nicer your bar will look in the end.
When you are done, put some more oil on a paper towel and give your bar one last wipe down.
General Barbell Care Tips
These simple, everyday tips can ensure that your barbell lasts a lifetime:
- Never drop an empty bar: When a bar has plates on, you can drop it since the plates will absorb most of the force. When your bar is empty and you drop it, you risk damaging the internal rotation components.
- Avoid Metal On Metal Contact: Frequent metal contact can cause your barbell to get scuffed up easily. Opt for habits and options that avoid metal contact:
- Use J-hooks and attachments that are protected with UHMW plastic
- Use safety strap instead of pins or arms
- Use barbell storage options that do not require metal contact
- Store your bars horizontally: If possible, store your barbells horizontally, and remember that higher up is always better
With the proper care and maintenance, a quality barbell can truly last a lifetime. By just following some basics steps such as:
- Brushing your barbell after every session
- Performing regular maintenance as needed by the coating of your barbell
- Not misusing or abusing your barbell
- Storing your barbell in safe conditions
Find The Best Barbell
After years of testing, we assembled a master list of the best barbells on the market for every home gym owner. Whether you are just starting out or looking to buy your tenth barbell, this guide will have you covered,
Cleaning a barbell with water is not advisable. The added moisture can actually lead to even more rust. You should instead opt for a vinegar-water solution to clean your barbells.
Yes, you can. As long as barbells have not been completely neglected for decades, most can be at least somewhat restored with basic cleaning.
Most brands do not have warranties that are impacted by cleaning or disassembling. After all, cleaning your barbell is part of regular maintenance and does not impact the structural integrity of the bar.